Last week was pretty hectic for me, so I’m just catching up on some housekeeping. I wanted to comment on my colleague Mark Thompson’s post about the suicide of Marine Sergeant Ian McConnell. Mark commented that that “Ian’s blood is on our hands,” and that “home, for many of our veterans, is a theater of war.”
These are strong statements that I won’t try to soften. The home front is a very dangerous place for returned veterans: every single day in America 18 veterans commit suicide. That’s more deaths per year than we’ve had in almost ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. At a rally last month here in Washington, a speaker commented that a suicide on the home front is like a 7000 mile sniper shot. Chalk up one more KIA for the Taliban. It won’t be the last.
I was in Atlanta over the weekend at a conference for health care providers, performance and fine art creators, and techies looking for ways to integrate their work to help PTSD and TBI survivors. A National Guard general came in to thank us for our work. The general said the Guard had lost another soldier the night before to suicide. No one can rightly blame the chain of command for this one. It’s hard to keep your eyes on a young soldier that you only see once a month.
But if not the chain-of-command, who? Well, Mark says all of us. If that’s true, then perhaps all of us can take a little bit of responsibility to try and help someone in need. You know that young woman sitting on the bus next to you, the one with the 1000 yard stare? Maybe she’s just back from Iraq. And the guy who never says too much when he picks up his dry cleaning? The one who stares at the floor a lot and has the shaky hands? What if he’s struggling to adjust to life without his M4 carbine and a squad of scouts around him? Maybe that middle-aged guy who cut you off on the highway this morning when he zipped across three lanes of traffic was a little freaked out because he saw a box on the side of the road that looked suspicious and he’s really not all the way home from the war yet.
Maybe all of these people need a support network because the networks they depended on for a year in combat have disintegrated, gone home to a hundred different little towns across the country.
Every corner market, each gas station, all the libraries and shopping malls, that dive bar out on Route 40 and the church around the corner are potential support networks for returnees. We can all take a chance and reach out to someone. Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s probably one hell of a lot easier for most of us than it is for a scared, traumatized veteran. Take a chance. Smile a little. Say, “How’s it going?”